Penis mugs, Houdini's handcuffs, and a souvenir from James Monroe's disinterment

Curious objects at auction.

Lot 1: Handle with Care

Image: Courtesy of Rago Arts

Had you the foresight to secure that plywood penis table at Sotheby’s last year, you’d now have the opportunity to add some perfectly compatible drinkware: three ceramic mugs with phallus form handles. Cock cups, if you will. Estimated at only $500-700, the whimsical Disco-era vessels would certainly discomfit the members of your book club-coffee klatch, and for that, they’re worth every penny.

The mugs feature in a New Jersey auction on October 22 brimming with awesomely off-kilter oddities, e.g., a collection of rubber mushrooms, a box of glass eyes from the early twentieth century, and a Victorian hand-cranked vibrator.Lot 2: Off the ’Cuffs

Image: Courtesy of Potter & Potters Auctions

Harry Houdini, master magician and ‘king of handcuffs,’ loved to flaunt his cuff-cracking act. What really pissed him off were copycat escape artists, particularly those who tried to usurp his faux-regal title. So he had handcuffs modified to “break,” or stump, his competitors. (He also tried to patent his tricks.) This Lilly Iron was made around 1875 and then customized with a special bolt by Houdini in 1905; any performer who made the attempt would thus demonstrate his own mediocrity. According to the auctioneer, this set is among the most prized Houdini owned/used restraints. Hence the estimated sale price of $8,000-12,000. Special key included.

These cuffs last appeared at auction in Vegas in 2004. This time around, they’ll materialize in Chicago on October 28 as part of the collection of Vaudeville magician Harry Blackstone Sr.

Lot 3: RIP, but Not in NYC

This delicate silk ribbon calls to mind that time when Southerners decided President James Monroe’s corpse was no longer safe in New York City. Monroe, our fifth president, died in New York in 1831 and was buried in the East Village’s Marble Cemetery. But Virginia wanted him back, and so in July of 1858, the man was disinterred, briefly put on display, and then conveyed by barge back to the ‘Old Dominion’ for reburial.

The image of a goddess stomping her crowned male enemy captioned with the words “Sic Semper Tyrannis”—from Virginia’s state flag—hints at the political motivations at play in exhuming and returning a native son. Whatever the reason, moving presidential remains is a thing, and this morbid little keepsake could be worth $400+ to bidders when it goes to auction on October 21.

Says the auction catalog, “The only example we have seen, and as close as the serious ribbon collector will get to having an example from our fifth President.” Serious ribbon collectors, you’ve been warned.


Rebecca Rego Barry is the author of Rare Books Uncovered: True Stories of Fantastic Finds in Unlikely Places.